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Volume 34
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Black, Latino, Asian same-sex couples have most to gain, lose from marriage fight
Black, Latino, Asian same-sex couples have most to gain, lose from marriage fight
by Sean Cahill, Marsha Botzer and George Cheung - Special to the SGN

For two decades, the religious right has sought to pit Gay people against people of color, and to portray the two communities as mutually exclusive. Concerned Women for America published a 2004 report entitled Homosexuals hijack civil rights bus. The Rev. Lou Sheldon, of the Traditional Values Coalition, wrote in a recent fund-raising letter that legislating sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws would "grant homosexuals more rights than other citizens, thus causing us to lose some of our rights." Anti-Gay activists portray sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws as "special rights" that threaten the civil rights of "legitimate minorities." More recently, Republican leaders, including President Bush, have pitched their opposition to same-sex marriage to black religious conservatives as a key reason to vote Republican.

Of course, overstated analogies between the experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people and people of color can exacerbate this dynamic. Also, images of LGBT people in popular culture that are heavily white, male and economically privileged (e.g., Will & Grace) also reinforce this dynamic.

A March 16 forum at Antioch University in Seattle examined the racial dynamics of struggles for LGBT equality, and especially the fight for marriage equality for same-sex couples. Speakers included Sean Cahill, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, Vanessa Grandberry, outreach coordinator at People of Color Against AIDS Network, and George Cheung, founding member of Equal Rights Washington.

While racism and anti-Gay bias are different, anti-LGBT groups are wrong to portray legal protections for Gay people as a threat to people of color. In fact, data from the 2000 U.S. Census data indicate that black, Latino and Asian American same-sex couple households may benefit more, on average, than white Gay couples from the ability to marry. Anti-Gay partner recognition laws and anti-Gay parenting laws also disproportionately threaten LGBT people of color.

This is because of racial differences in parenting rates, income and wealth, citizenship status, and public sector employment. Let us explain.

In 1990 and 2000 the Census allowed cohabiting same-sex couples to self-identify. The 2000 data show that black and Latina female same-sex (Lesbian) couples parent at almost the same rate as black and Latina married couples. Black and Latino same-sex couples (both female and male couples) parent at nearly twice the rate of white same-sex couples.

Compared to white non-Hispanic same-sex couples, black and Latino same-sex couples earn less and are less likely to own the home they live in. All of these data are found in two studies on black and Latino same-sex couples that are available at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Web site, (www.theTaskForce.org).

A study of Asian American same-sex couples from the 2000 Census, issued by the Asian American Federation of New York, also found higher rates of parenting and lower income as compared with white same-sex couples.

Black same-sex partners are also more likely than white Gay partners to hold public sector jobs. Public sector jobs often offer domestic partner health benefits. Nine of the 13 anti-Gay marriage amendments passed in 2004 also threaten public sector domestic partner benefits. For example, after the anti-marriage amendment passed, Michigan's governor rescinded partner health insurance for state workers. The Census data indicate black same-sex partners were disproportionately hurt by this move.

Another issue of particular concern to Latino and Asian same-sex couples is citizenship. Among Latino same-sex households in which both partners are Latino, 51 percent of men and 38 percent of women are not U.S. citizens. Asian same-sex partners were also much more likely than white non-Hispanic or black same-sex partners to be noncitizens. Many of these noncitizens are partnered with citizens. Right now the Immigration and Naturalization Service does not recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships for the purposes of immigration. But at some point in the future the ability to marry and have their marriages recognized by the federal government will assist same-sex binational couples to stay together in the U.S. This will disproportionately benefit Asian and Latino same-sex couples.

Denying the protections that come with marriage hurts all same-sex couples. But it disproportionately hurts the ability of black, Latino, and Asian same-sex couples to save money, provide for their children, buy a house, or prepare for retirement.

Anti-Gay activists have long sought to divide LGBT people and people of color. In fact, 2000 Census data clearly identify a large population of black, Latino and Asian same-sex couples in the U.S. (analysis of Native American same-sex couples still needs to be done). These families have the same hopes and aspirations as other American families. They deserve the same protections and opportunities to benefit from state and federal programs designed to promote family formation, stability, home ownership, and other values that contribute to community strength and the common good. Those who care about racial and economic justice should reject discriminatory anti-family amendments to our state and federal constitutions.

James Madison warned that, unchecked, majority rule could devolve into majority tyranny. To protect against this, he promoted a bill of rights, a separation of powers, representative government, and an independent judiciary. Sadly, voters around the country are choosing majority tyranny over equal rights for all Americans. While all LGBT families are hurt by this, on average LGBT families of color are hurt the most.



Sean Cahill directs the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. Marsha Botzer is the Task Force board co-chair, a founding member of Equal Rights Washington, and founder of Seattle's Ingersoll Gender Center. George Cheung is CEO of Lopez and Cheung, and a founding member of Equal Rights Washington.
 

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